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Self-righteousness always blinds us to the true inner demands of God’s moral standards. We can be so concerned with conformity to some legalistic standard of do’s and don’ts that may or may not have any biblical validity that we lose touch with God’s heart of compassion to meet the needs of people. Instead of love and mercy and compassion and justice, we pride ourselves on some lesser code of conduct that does not require godly motivation and God-glorifying goals. So the Pharisees interacted with Jesus on these two occasions to try to catch him in some type of sabbath-breaking scandal. Their intention was only to find fault. Jesus exposed their hard hearts and asked them probing questions that left them speechless.

Donald Miller: The strictness with which the Sabbath was observed was a point of pride with the Pharisees. The Sabbath was considered the most valuable treasure of Judaism, next to the Temple. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was related both to creation (Gen. 2:2-3; Exod. 20:8-11; 31:12-17) and redemption (Deut. 5:12-15). It was a weekly reminder that the God who had created the universe was present with them, and that he had given them rest by redeeming them from their bondage in Egypt. . . The purpose of the Sabbath law was glory to God. The means was cessation from work. The Pharisees, however, had forgotten the purpose, and had turned the means into an end. To do no work was to keep the Sabbath! The glory of God was forgotten. Hence, the Sabbath had become a day of prohibitions, many of which were laughable. Work had to be defined. It was divided into thirty-nine categories, each of which was broken down further. To keep the Sabbath rightly, therefore, one had to remember dozens of specific rules about things not to do!


A. (:1) Fundamental Human Need — Hunger

“Now it came about that on a certain Sabbath He was passing through some grain fields; and His disciples were picking and eating the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands.”

Pharisees were always spying on Jesus and His disciples – on the lookout for some way to accuse them.

Morris: The Pharisees would find in the plucking of the ears a breach of the regulation which forbade reaping and in the rubbing in their hands that which prohibited threshing. Throwing away the husks probably represented winnowing, while eating showed that they had prepared food. Four distinct breaches of the sabbath in one mouthful!

B. (:2-4) Fundamental Difference in Perspective – Legalistic Conformity vs. Showing Compassion

1. (:2) Legalistic Complaint – Legalistic Conformity – Leading to Finding Fault

“But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’”

2. (:3-4) Historical Biblical Precedent – Compassion for Human Need

“And Jesus answering them said, ‘Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, 4 how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?’”

Morris: David’s action was technically a breach of the law, for only the priests should eat this bread (Lv. 24:9). But the need of his band overrode the legal nicety and no one blamed him. Human need must not be subjected to barren legalism.

Jesus is present as one who is greater than David – in fact the Messiah himself – so the one who could supremely dictate what would glorify God on the Sabbath day

Lenski: Jesus proves by David’s own example that even the divine ceremonial law was not intended to be absolute in its application. The rabbinical refinements are left entirely behind as being unworthy of notice. God cares more for the proper spiritual condition of the heart than for the outward observance of his own ceremonial regulations. The argument is thus overwhelming. David’s hunger sets aside even a divine regulation; shall not the hunger of the disciples set aside mere rabbinical notions that lack all binding force to begin with?

C. (:5) Fundamental Principle – Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

“And He was saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’”

Anyabwile: He can only rule the Sabbath if, in fact, he owns it. He can only own it if he is the one who made it and gave it. . .a powerful statement from Jesus’s own mouth that he is God. The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath, not servant to it, and he is guiltless before it. . . Should we serve the law or serve the Son? Oh beloved, serve the Son and find rest for your souls.

Lenski: The idea that “lord of the Sabbath’ means that he is so superior to the Sabbath that he can do what he pleases with the Sabbath … is just about the opposite of what Jesus means. Jesus was under the law (Gal. 4:4) to fulfill it for us, which included the ceremonial law and thus also the Sabbath law. . . The Sabbath desecrations with which the Jews charged him were contradictions only of the man-made Pharisaical regulations that were contrary to the divine law. But in the Son of man and in his fulfillment the whole ceremonial law would attain its divinely intended purpose and would thus eventually fall away as being no longer needed. This would come about with the death and the resurrection of the Son of man. The new covenant without ceremonies would then supersede the old with its ceremonies. Thus the Jewish Sabbath and all the sacrifices plus even the Temple would disappear and be abrogated. It is, however, unwarranted to think that Jesus was already abrogating the Jewish Sabbath, Temple, etc. The Christian Sunday still lay in the future.

Donald Miller: By claiming Lordship over the Sabbath, therefore, Jesus was declaring that the Messianic Age had come. God is now present in him! The “rest” which God had promised was the redemption which Jesus had brought! God had ceased from his work of creation, but he was active in his work of redemption, even on the Sabbath. . . Jesus was not setting aside the Sabbath law. He was rather fulfilling it.


A. (:6) Fundamental Human Need – Physical Handicap

“And it came about on another Sabbath, that He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.”

Customary practice of Jesus was to observe the Sabbath in a context of corporate worship while pursuing His primary ministry activity of teaching

B. (:7-8) Fundamental Difference in Perspective – Legalistic Conformity vs. Showing Compassion

1. (:7) Legalistic Concern – Legalistic Conformity — Leading to Finding Fault

“And the scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely, to see if He healed on the Sabbath, in order that they might find reason to accuse Him.”

Geldenhuys: It was the recognized opinion of the Jews at that time that only in a case of deadly peril could a sick person be treated medically on the Sabbath.

2. (:8) Aggressive Confrontation – Compassion for Human Need

“But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Rise and come forward!’ And he rose and came forward.”

C. (:9) Fundamental Principle – Jesus Puts a Priority on Doing Good

“And Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do harm, to save a life, or to destroy it?’”

D. (:10-11) Fundamental Difference in Action – Healing vs. Malice

1. (:10) Public Miracle of Healing on the Part of Jesus

“And after looking around at them all, He said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand!’ And he did so; and his hand was restored.”

2. (:11) Private Scheming to Attack Jesus on the Part of the Scribes and Pharisees

“But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.”

Geldenhuys: Instead of seeing in His revelation of divine power the genuineness of His claims and believing in Him, His persecutors now became more fanatical than ever in their determination to compass His death (cf. Mark iii.6).